What's Not Okay to Ask A Dancer to Do?
To create great work, choreographers need the freedom to tackle difficult subjects and push physical limits. But when your instruments are human beings, is there a limit to how far you should go? Five choreographers open up about where they draw the line.
ioulex, Courtesy Streb
"I ask dancers to be 100 percent trained in every fiber of their bodies so they can come in here ready to crash and fly. I think any dancer who says, 'No, I don't want to do that' isn't curious enough to be in the STREB company. They can say, 'I'm not ready to try that today.' And they can say, 'Let's not do that again.' When a dancer gets injured, I wish on that day I had stopped it. But we agree to get hurt."
Raja Feather Kelly
Hope Davis, Courtesy Kelly
"If my dancers can debate me into understanding their position and win the argument, then I'm happy to concede. There was a situation where a cast member told me something wasn't important to the show, and I thought it was. We had an argument. I think I wanted her to make out with another dancer. I don't want to allude to kissing if I think the scene should end with a kiss. But she didn't think that it was justified for the purpose of the scene, and she felt that it exploited her. In the end, I believed her. It wasn't moving the story forward, so we didn't do it."
"When I was younger, I didn't fully understand how far my dancers would have to go emotionally to do the intense, outrageous stuff I wanted. Sometimes you're just directing and you're in your own dreamlike place. I'd say, "Oh, come on, you can do this," or "Haha, that thing you did was really funny," and it really wasn't. Now, I have more compassion.
"A lot of my material is based in their individual experiences, so I just let my dancers go as far out as they're gonna go. But I do put the kibosh on some things. For example, one dancer wanted to tape herself into a plastic bag. I thought, That's a little dangerous. She tried it, but it made me feel so panicked I couldn't really watch it. I couldn't put that onstage."
Cheryl Mann Productions, Courtesy Agami
"You just need an honest conversation. When it's risky—I recently wanted to deal with the physicality of meth addicts, for instance—I make sure I start the discussion by asking, by wondering, not demanding anything from anyone. We have a dialogue and I give the person the freedom to say what he thinks because I need to have a collaborator with me. If I feel a dancer is uncomfortable, I retreat. It doesn't prevent us from dealing with struggle and effort and challenge and embarrassment and fears, but I don't want to humiliate anyone, including the audience."
Bill Zemanek, Courtesy LINES
"If someone feels uncomfortable, they're not going to be able to serve the work, so it's pointless. When LINES worked with the Shaolin monks, I wanted some pas de deux and initially they said it was their rule that they did not touch women. So I left them alone. But when they realized that the movement was not sexualized, these were just ideas that we're working out through physical form, then everything began to change, and they saw it as okay.
"Now, if you're talking about technical demands, you have to push dancers! [Laughs.] Because as a director, you also want to feed them technically and artistically. You will not allow them to say "I can't," because those demands represent the next step in their development."
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
Get Dance Magazine in your inbox
On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.
A recent trip I took to Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.
I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.
There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.
While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?
Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.
It can be hard to imagine life without—or just after—dance. Perhaps that's why we find it so fascinating to hear what our favorite dancers think they'd be doing if they weren't performing for a living.
We've been asking stars about the alternate career they'd like to try in our "Spotlight" Q&A series, and their answers—from the unexpected to the predictable—do not disappoint:
"New York City Ballet star appears in a Keanu Reeves action movie" is not a sentence we ever thought we'd write. But moviegoers seeing John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum will be treated to two scenes featuring soloist Unity Phelan dancing choreography by colleague Tiler Peck. The guns-blazing popcorn flick cast Phelan as a ballerina who also happens to be training to become an elite assassin. Opens in theaters May 17.
The Brooklyn-based choreographer Gillian Walsh is both obsessed with and deeply conflicted about dance. With her latest work, Fame Notions, May 17–19 at Performance Space New York, she seeks to understand what she calls the "fundamentally pessimistic or alienating pursuit" of being a dancer. Noting that the piece is "quiet and introverted," like much of her other work, she sees Fame Notions as one step in a larger project examining why dancers dance.
What does Mikhail Baryshnikov have to say to dancers starting their careers today? On Friday, he gave the keynote speech during the graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.
The heart of his message: Be generous.